Who's on 1st, What's on 2nd & Who's Smoking What at City Hall?

Image of Jeff with Fat Cats mascot Scratch It should be blatantly obvious to anyone who managed to read Norm's recent diatribe (Mama Don't 'llow No 'lympic Play'n 'round Here) that he doesn't advocate spending huge amounts of public money to subsidize sport. I happen to agree with Norman on that point. I don't think municipalities should sell off local ball parks, soccer fields and skating rinks to facilitate the expansion of Starbucks and build condominiums. And I draw the line when public lands and monies are used to accommodate, for all intents and purposes, *professional* teams sporting events.

Take, for instance, the Ottawa Baseball Stadium, a single purpose baseball park which, some would argue, has become somewhat of a blight upon the Coventry Road landscape. Built in 1993 to accommodate Triple-A baseball, it became home to the Ottawa Lynx where they remained until 2007. During their tenure at the facility, the team initially set league attendance records (averaging just under 9,800 per game) but attendance gradually declined to about 1,000 fans per game: the lowest attendance of any team in the International League.

In a nutshell, the Ottawa Lynx pulled up stakes and moved to Pennsylvania because of "the sheer lack of interest that Ottawa fans [were] showing". Lynx owner Ray Pecor could not have made it any clearer when he advanced the position "if Ottawa fans show some interest in the team, the Lynx will stay in Ottawa. But if the seats stay empty, it may well go somewhere else". And go they did, to Allentown Pennsylvania, where they continue to play in the International League as the Lehigh Valley Ironpigs.

The Ottawa Rapidz, an expansion franchise in the Can-Am League, occupied Ottawa Stadium in 2008. Despite drawing slightly larger crowds than the Lynx had managed in its final few years, the Rapidz' success was short-lived, playing only one season, ending in bankruptcy the following year. A new franchise, the Ottawa Voyageurs, was announced by the league for the 2009 season, however a lack of prospective owners, coupled with Ottawa's low-yield market and declining economic conditions would ensure the Voyageurs would never field a team. Baseball, in Ottawa, had struck out after three attempts at bat and Ottawa Stadium remained vacant in 2009.

In January 2010, the Intercounty Baseball League awarded Ottawa an expansion franchise and on 15 May 2010 the Ottawa Fat Cats took to the field at Ottawa Stadium where they continue to play to this day. A friend of mine, with whom I meet for breakfast on a weekly basis, is a Fat Cats season ticket holder. He has, in fact, been a loyal Portly Pussy supporter throughout their entire three year history. I accompanied Dave to about a half dozen games this season and felt the Tallow Tabbies offered up reasonably high calibre baseball with exceptional entertainment value. So good, in fact, that I'd sign up for season tickets myself next year but it looks as though the Fat Cats might be the Stray Cats as Ottawa's ambitions for Double-A ball may render the team homeless.

Last year, the City of Ottawa reached an agreement in principal with Beacon Sports Capital Partners in an arrangement which seeks to bring Double-A baseball to Canada's capital. Mayor Jim Watson, in a tweet late last week, asserted that "Ottawa will get a professional baseball team in 2014, as well as renovations to Ottawa Stadium". Of course Watson's enthusiasm is likely overly optimistic given the whole deal hinges on one small, seemingly insignificant, fact: Beacon Sports has to find a buyer for an unnamed Eastern League team willing to move the franchise to Ottawa and assume the Ottawa Stadium lease agreement. Part of that lease agreement, incidentally, will allow the new team owners to sublet the newly renovated multi-purpose Ottawa Stadium and host other events as a means of generating revenue.

Several incredibly innocent questions come to mind as I consider the fate of the Ottawa Fat Cats, Ottawa Stadium and the feasibility of Double-A baseball in Ottawa. Why does the facility, which accommodated Triple-A baseball just five years ago require $12 million in upgrades to accommodate lower calibre baseball? Why has Ottawa Stadium not been maintained by the City? Why is the City, after spending millions to renovate the facility to accommodate other events, signing away the right to lease the stadium for those other events? Why hasn't the City been using this facility to accommodate other events all along? And finally, given Ottawa's track record with baseball, and their inability to sustain a Triple-A baseball club, what makes Double-A baseball suddenly seem more viable?

Were I cynical, my crystal ball might reveal a homeless and defunct Ottawa Fat Cats, a Double-A team that simply fails to materialize and a vacant unmaintained stadium whose destiny includes a date with a wrecking ball. "Say," he asks with one eyebrow slightly raised, "wouldn't a nice walking bridge from the transitway over the Queensway make that property extremely valuable to property developers itching to build condomininiums?"

"Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean, say no more."

Submitted by Jeff Dubois, 11 September 2012